English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For February 01/2024
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani
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Bible Quotations For today
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 05/17-20/:”‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on January 31-February 01.2024
Lebanese tax budget sparks protests from fuel and medicine importers and public-sector employees
US Treasury sanctions Lebanon-based 'Hydro' and 'Yara Offshore' companies for ties to Hezbollah, IRGC Quds Force
"Terrifying Israeli Aggression Shakes the South at Night... Bloodshed and Paramedics Miraculously Survive!
Hezbollah Diversifies its Strikes... Israel Denies Reducing its Forces at the Borders
Arab Post Reveals Details of US-Qatari Proposal Regarding Lebanon
Israel-Hezbollah border clashes: Latest developments
Israel reduces troops in north as Gallant warns of 'devastating' war on Beirut
Constitutional Council dismisses appeal against army chief's term extension
Ambassadors who met Berri 'didn't propose initiative or candidate'
Report: Mikati manages to prevent major war on Lebanon
Paris may replace Le Drian as Qatari envoy meets Shiite Duo, Franjieh
Queues return, crisis looms as fuel importers suspend operations
Ambassadors who met Berri 'didn't propose initiative or candidate'
Lebanon's fuel quandary: Unpacking the 2024 budget impact
Lebanese Grand Jaafari Mufti sounds alarm on Lebanon's state of war and sovereignty crisis

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 31-February 01.2024
US warship had close call with Houthi missile in Red Sea
Iran threatens to respond to any US strikes as Biden weighs how to react to a base attack in Jordan
Israel demands resignation of UN Secretary General Guterres, accusing UN staff of aiding Hamas
Top US diplomat set to return to the Mideast for 5th time since Gaza conflict began
Netanyahu rejects 2 key Hamas demands for any cease-fire
Israel floods Hamas tunnels as UN pleads for aid funding
Donors seek fast answers to allegations over U.N. agency in Gaza crisis
Gaza's economy could take decades to recover, UN trade body says
Trudeau says Ottawa 'actively working' to find missing Palestinian Canadian in Gaza
Best for world if Netanyahu leaves office 'sooner rather than later': Liberal MP
South Africa says all states must stop funding Israel's military
Canada, allies condemn 'Victory Conference' as push to reoccupy Gaza gains momentum in Israel
EU aims to launch a Red Sea naval mission within 3 weeks to protect ships from rebel attacks
Hungary opposes billions in new EU aid for Ukraine. A new summit will try to change that
The logistics of war: How Washington is preparing for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan

Titles For The Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources on January 31-February 01.2024
Middle East conflict: Joe Biden must weigh the risks of using force in an election year/Andrew Payne/The Conversation/January 31, 2024
Denmark Bans ‘Sacrilege’ (Guess for Which Religion)/Raymond Ibrahim/January 31, 2024
Who Is Expanding Which War In The Middle East?/Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez/MEMRI /January 31, 2024
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: what you need to know about the militant group/Antonella Acinapura/The Conversation/January 31, 2024
The Dilemmas of Open-Ended Conflicts/Charles Elias Chartouni/This is Beirut site/January 31/2024
Shrinking UK army equals reduced power and influence/Mohamed Chebaro/Arab News/January 31, 2024

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published
Lebanese tax budget sparks protests from fuel and medicine importers and public-sector employees

Updated 11 sec ago
NAJIA HOUSSARI/Arab News/January 31, 2024
BEIRUT: Long queues at gas stations returned to Lebanon after fuel-importing companies announced a “forced cessation of importing and delivering petroleum products, starting Wednesday morning.”They are protesting against a provision in the 2024 state budget that imposes a 10 percent exceptional tax on “institutions and merchants, including fuel-importing companies, who benefited from subsidies exceeding $10,000 provided by the Central Bank.”The Syndicate of Pharmaceutical Importers and Warehouse Owners in Lebanon joined the protest, considering the tax “a random project that is not based on any economic or legal basis. Its adoption will inevitably lead to a blow to the entire legitimate pharmaceutical sector, endanger the citizens’ health security, and threaten the availability of medicine in Lebanon.”
The protests were accompanied by a strike that will last until Feb. 9, initiated by public-sector employees “to protest their mediocre salaries and piecemeal policies.” Judicial assistants will be joining them on Thursday, disrupting the operations of the courts.
Private hospitals feared that halting fuel deliveries would affect the continuity of their work, “given their need for diesel for their electric generators.” They urged “fuel-importing companies to exempt hospitals from their decision and provide them with their needs immediately in order to preserve the lives of patients.”
Last Friday, the Lebanese Parliament approved the draft budget for 2024, which was prepared by the government after being amended by the parliamentary finance and budget committee. The budget was labeled “a tax bonanza.” During the discussion session prior to its approval, MPs said that it “lacks both economic and social visions and was submitted without proper accountability.”
Following the parliamentary amendments, the budget included taxes that have risen tenfold, including municipal fees, registration fees, travel fees, taxes on environmentally friendly cars, taxes on bank accounts, fines on marine property owners, and raising the tax on the profits of financial companies. It included exceptional fines of 17 percent for institutions that have benefited from the “Sayrafa” platform, in addition to the exceptional tax reaching 10 percent of business volume that was imposed on merchants who benefited from the subsidies provided by the Central Bank, including fuel-importing companies.
Representative of fuel distributors in Lebanon, Fadi Abou Chakra, told Arab News that “fuel is currently available, but we hope that officials will respond to the owners of importing companies to avoid crises and long queues.”
Maroun Chammas, president of the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies, blamed the executive and legislative authorities for the current crisis. He said: “It is the Lebanese citizens, not the companies, who have benefited from the support. We have requested clarifications from the relevant authorities, but we have not received a satisfactory response yet.”During a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Chammas said: “The decision to close is not easy, and this is the last resort for us, although it is not appealing.” He said “the tax that was approved cannot be implemented as companies that comply with the laws should not be punished.”
On the resumption date for fuel delivery, Chammas said: “The answer lies in the Parliament.”The Public Administration Employees Association, which called for the strike, considered the 2024 budget to be a “tax and fee budget imposed on a people who have been robbed of everything they own in banks, and now they are implementing an unfair haircut on the employees’ salaries and all their entitlements, including health coverage, educational benefits, and social benefits. Despite all of this, the government continues to ignore the rights of all low-income individuals in the public sector, and the maximum violence is manifested in the face of general administration employees and all those who work in it.”The government had previously reached a common formula with workers of the Public Administration Employees Association at the end of last year for a financial incentives package. This package was intended to compensate employees for a portion of their lost salaries and ensure their return to their duties after a months-long open strike. However, the proposed financial incentives were suspended after significant objections from sectors not included in the increase decision, and the crisis returned to its previous state.
The 2024 budget did not include any financial incentives for public-sector employees, nor any privileges or benefits for workers. During the budget approval session, the caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, told the Parliament that the budget “aligns with the economic, security, social and international conditions that Lebanon is currently facing, but it is not perfect.”He said that “the major attack on taxes and fees stipulated in the budget project is filled with populism and bias, as there is no significant increase in taxes, and adjusting fees does not constitute the burden that some MPs talked about.”

US Treasury sanctions Lebanon-based 'Hydro' and 'Yara Offshore' companies for ties to Hezbollah, IRGC Quds Force
LBCI/January 31, 2024
On Wednesday, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three entities and one individual in Lebanon and Turkey for delivering essential financial support to an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and the Hezbollah financial network. "Today's action underscores our resolve to prevent the IRGC-QF and its proxy terrorist groups from exploiting the international trading system to fund their destabilizing activities," said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. "The United States will continue to take action to expose and disrupt these illicit schemes," Nelson added. The Lebanon-based Yara Offshore SAL (Yara) is a Hezbollah-affiliated company that facilitated large sales of Iranian commodities to the Syrian regime, which the latter paid millions of dollars to Yara. "Yara also conducted transactions on behalf of US-designated Hezbollah and IRGC-QF front company Concepto Screen SAL, which OFAC previously designated under EO 13224, as amended, on May 25, 2022 because it was used by Muhammad Qasir and US-designated Hezbollah illicit finance team official Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal to facilitate commercial transactions likely benefiting the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah," said a press release. Yara Offshore SAL is designated under EO 13224 "for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Hezbollah." Lebanon-based Hydro Company for Drilling Equipment Rental (Hydro) was also designated under EO 13224 "for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF."The company was involved in financing the IRGC-QF by facilitating the shipment of Iranian commodities worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria.  "Hydro operates under the direction of senior IRGC-QF officers and maintains commercial ties with US-designated Hezbollah and IRGC-QF front company Lebanon-based Concepto Screen SAL," the press release said.

"Terrifying Israeli Aggression Shakes the South at Night... Bloodshed and Paramedics Miraculously Survive!
Janoubia/January 31, 2024
A citizen from the 'Al-Hamoud' family was martyred in the Israeli hostile airstrike targeting a house in the southern town of Beit Leif.Meanwhile, the enemy artillery is shelling the outskirts of the towns of Alma Asha'ab, Yarin, and Dahiyra. Al-Manar channel correspondent Ali Shuaib posted on his 'X' platform account a photo showing "damage to the ambulance belonging to the Scout Association of Al-Risalah due to the drone strike on the town of Bleyda." The Central Civil Defense Operations Room of the Islamic Message Scouts Association announced in a statement that "an enemy drone carried out a strike on the Bleyda town square, directly hitting one of our ambulances." It clarified that "the paramedics miraculously survived," noting that "the firefighting team in the association is working to extinguish the fire in one of the affected buildings." Al-Mayadeen channel reported "Israeli artillery shelling on the outskirts of the towns of Yarin and Dahiyra, and an injury to a Lebanese army point without casualties." The National News Agency reported that "Israeli forces targeted the town of Mahaybib with artillery shelling and dropped illuminating bombs in the skies of the town of Mays al-Jabal."

Hezbollah Diversifies its Strikes... Israel Denies Reducing its Forces at the Borders
Al Mudon//February 1, 2024
The Israeli army withdrew one of its reserve brigades from the Gaza Strip, as reported by "Yedioth Ahronoth" newspaper. The occupation army radio announced that "the Fifth Reserve Brigade left the Gaza Strip last night and completed its mission, as part of efforts to reduce the number of forces in the sector (withdrawing a parachute brigade and another armored brigade a few days ago)." Yedioth Ahronoth also mentioned that the army decided to reduce its forces stationed along the Lebanese border, with local security teams taking over the response to security incidents in those areas.
However, the Israeli army denied what the newspaper published regarding reducing its forces stationed in areas adjacent to the Lebanese borders. This comes simultaneously with continued threats from Israeli officials of the "stage in which peace will be imposed on the northern borders by force," as announced by the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Galant, on January 30. In a series of military developments, Israel and Hezbollah exchanged strikes in various areas. Hezbollah announced in a statement today that it targeted the Matula area in northern Israel with a missile, confirming hitting a house there. Earlier, the Israeli army announced targeting military infrastructure of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes, while Israeli artillery conducted shelling, targeting several locations and towns in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah announced this afternoon targeting "gatherings and espionage equipment" for the Israeli occupation army in the southern border area of Lebanon. Simultaneously, the Israeli air force carried out an "aerial aggression" on the border town of Yaron, with the eastern parts of the town of Aitaroun being subjected to Israeli artillery shelling. The National News Agency reported an Israeli aerial march targeting the border town of Yaron, noting that the eastern outskirts of the town of Aitaroun were shelled by Israeli artillery. Smoke columns rose from the vicinity of the Israeli occupation army site near the Lebanese-Palestinian border. Around 4:30 PM, Hezbollah issued another statement, commenting on targeting the Merkava gate in the Bleyda site: "In support of our resilient Palestinian people in Gaza and in support of its brave and honorable resistance, the fighters of the Islamic Resistance targeted the Merkava tank at the Bleyda site with appropriate weapons, causing a direct hit."

Arab Post Reveals Details of US-Qatari Proposal Regarding Lebanon

Arab Post, January 31, 2024
A Western diplomatic source revealed to "Arab Post" the existence of a US-Qatari proposal to hold the next quintet meeting at the Parliament headquarters in Beirut. The participants would include the US envoy Amos Hochstein, the French Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Saudi Nizar Al-Aloula, and the Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, in addition to a representative from the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Regarding the purpose of the meeting in Beirut, the source explained that "the approaches discussed by representatives of these countries stem from a set of constants within the quintet, foremost among them being that the presented file is an internal Lebanese matter. Therefore, it is necessary to approach it with parliamentary blocs under the dome of the Lebanese Parliament." The source further mentioned that "efforts are underway to determine the date of the meeting, its agenda, and the ceiling of the demands it will produce. The second goal is to form an international-regional safety umbrella in Lebanon to prevent any Israeli attempt to strike the country." The source also pointed out that "the idea coincides with efforts to reconcile the viewpoints among the five countries regarding the Lebanese issue, after the tension that affected the relationship between France and Saudi Arabia on one side, and the United States on the other." The source stated: "The focus is on ensuring that no party speaks on behalf of the five countries without consensus among the other group members, especially since the French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian has been operating independently from the group, awaiting what will be agreed upon in any upcoming quintet meeting at the ambassadorial level before visiting Lebanon."These communications, according to the source, are taking place concurrently with the Qatari envoy Jassem bin Fahd Al Thani's tour of Lebanese officials and his meetings with Hezbollah, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and the leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh.

Israel-Hezbollah border clashes: Latest developments
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
Hezbollah targeted Wednesday a group of Israeli soldiers on the hill of al-Tayhat and surveillance equipment in the Hanita post, as Israel shelled the outskirts of Tayr Harfa, Dhaira, Alma al-Shaab, and Majdalzoun. Israeli warplanes also carried out airstrikes on several locations in southern Lebanon, including Haddatha, Rshef and al-Tiri. Hezbollah had claimed responsibility Tuesday for five attacks on Israeli army positions near the border while the Israeli army bombed several southern border towns in Lebanon. Since the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on October 7, the Lebanese-Israeli border has seen near-daily exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah. More than 200 people, most of them Hezbollah members, have been killed in south Lebanon by Israeli fire since October 7, according to an AFP tally. On the Israeli side of the border, nine soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to Israeli officials.

Israel reduces troops in north as Gallant warns of 'devastating' war on Beirut
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that Israel is preparing for a potential war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, warning that the war would be devastating for the crisis-hit country. "If the Israeli army goes into action in the north, it will destroy Lebanon and Hezbollah," Gallant said. He added that in case of an escalation, the situation in Haifa won't be good, but in Beirut "the situation would be devastating."Gallant had said that Israeli troops will "very soon go into action" near the country's northern border with Lebanon and that the forces will be reinforced preparing "for what comes next."Yedioth Ahronoth meanwhile said Wednesday that the Israeli army has decided to lower the number of troops in northern Israeli communities. The towns would be stationed by local security squads who would act against any hostile action until Israeli forces arrive.

Constitutional Council dismisses appeal against army chief's term extension
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
The Constitutional Council on Wednesday held a session at its headquarters without managing to reach a decision on the appeal filed by the Free Patriotic Movement against the recent extension of the army chief’s term, which means that the extension will not be annulled, the National News Agency said. Parliament had extended the army chief's mandate on December 15, averting a military power vacuum as the country faces spillover of the Israel-Hamas war without a president or a fully functioning government. Army chief Joseph Aoun was set to retire on January 10, while the second most senior military position is already vacant. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year and its government is operating in a caretaker capacity as political deadlock paralyzes decision-making. Around 80,000 Lebanese serve in the army, which is seen as a key pillar of the country's stability.

Ambassadors who met Berri 'didn't propose initiative or candidate'
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
The ambassadors of the five-nation group for Lebanon did not propose an initiative or a presidential candidate in their meeting Tuesday with Speaker Nabih Berri, a source informed on the meeting said. “They presented their role as a support front and told the Lebanese to choose the candidates after consultations and support and assistance” from the five-nation group, the source told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. Sources following up on the issue also told the daily that the group has called on Lebanese officials to “engage in dialogue and reach consensus on any candidate that they want to elect, because time no longer allows for further delay amid these regional circumstances.”Sources from Berri's parliamentary bloc meanwhile told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that "the most important thing in this meeting was consensus on the need to finalize the presidential juncture separately from the war on Gaza."

Report: Mikati manages to prevent major war on Lebanon
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati carried out international contacts over the past few days in an effort to prevent any major war on Lebanon, a ministerial source said. “Mikati’s efforts have managed to prevent an expansion of the war,” the sources told ad-Diyar newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. Since the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on October 7, the Lebanese-Israeli border has seen near-daily exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah. More than 200 people, most of them Hezbollah members, have been killed in south Lebanon by Israeli fire since October 7, according to an AFP tally. On the Israeli side of the border, nine soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to Israeli officials. The fighting has also displaced tens of thousands of residents on both sides of the border and Israel has warned that it is ready to use military force to return its settlers to their homes.

Paris may replace Le Drian as Qatari envoy meets Shiite Duo, Franjieh
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
Paris might send to Lebanon an envoy other than Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose performance has been “criticized by Arab and Western officials,” a media report said. Qatari envoy Jassem Al-Thani meanwhile left Beirut after a series of meetings with Lebanese forces, including Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Wednesday. “It was notable that for the first time, the man did not mention names of candidates and did not carry any list. He rather focused his remarks on the idea of a third choice without delving into other details,” the daily added.

Queues return, crisis looms as fuel importers suspend operations
Naharnet /January 31, 2024
Lebanon’s gasoline, diesel and gas importing companies announced overnight that they would be suspending the delivery of fuel to distributors as of Wednesday morning as well as importation operations, in protest at parliament’s decision to impose an extraordinary tax on the companies that “imported subsidized goods in 2020 and 2021.”Urging “solutions,” the importers said they would be willing to reopen and supply the market with fuel, even on Sundays, when the issue gets resolved. “The fuel importing companies did not benefit from subsidization but it was rather the Lebanese consumer exclusively,” decrying that parliament’s decision was not based on “any study or justification.”“Approving the fine or the extraordinary tax will lead to the destruction of the importation sector and imposing hefty fines will negatively reflect on the companies’ activity and their relations with banks and exporters, stripping them of the importation capability,” the companies warned. They also cautioned that tens of thousands of employees and their families would be negatively affected should the companies go bankrupt. The announcement has sparked concern among motorists and the infamous queues of vehicles returned to some gas stations on Wednesday.The companies are meanwhile scheduled to hold a press conference at 3pm to talk more about their decision.

Ambassadors who met Berri 'didn't propose initiative or candidate'
Naharnet/January 31, 2024
The ambassadors of the five-nation group for Lebanon did not propose an initiative or a presidential candidate in their meeting Tuesday with Speaker Nabih Berri, a source informed on the meeting said. “They presented their role as a support front and told the Lebanese to choose the candidates after consultations and support and assistance” from the five-nation group, the source told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. Sources following up on the issue also told the daily that the group has called on Lebanese officials to “engage in dialogue and reach consensus on any candidate that they want to elect, because time no longer allows for further delay amid these regional circumstances.”Sources from Berri's parliamentary bloc meanwhile told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that "the most important thing in this meeting was consensus on the need to finalize the presidential juncture separately from the war on Gaza."

Lebanon's fuel quandary: Unpacking the 2024 budget impact

LBCI/January 31, 2024
Is there a new fuel crisis on the horizon? This is the question that Lebanese people have been asking for hours.So, what is the actual problem? The problem lies in the issuance of the 2024 budget, which includes imposing an exceptional fine or tax of 10 percent on all traders, institutions, and companies that benefited from the subsidy of various essential commodities provided by Banque du Liban (BDL) during the tenure of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government. To recall, the subsidy policy cost approximately $14 billion of depositors' money. Oil importing companies argue that any retroactive decision is illegal, and it is unfair for them to bear the burden of this tax. However, these companies had imported significant quantities of diesel and gasoline during the "subsidy" period. In 2020, these companies imported 5,549,419 tons of diesel. After the support was canceled, the imported quantity decreased by 68 percent, reaching 1,769,002 tons in 2023. In 2020, the companies also imported 1,837,648 tons of gasoline. Gradually, after the support was discontinued, this quantity decreased by 45 percent, reaching 1,018,342 tons of imported gasoline in 2023. Thus, $14 billion was spent on the subsidy policy from depositors' money. Isn't it time to reclaim these funds?

Lebanese Grand Jaafari Mufti sounds alarm on Lebanon's state of war and sovereignty crisis

LBCI/January 31, 2024
The Grand Jaafari Mufti, Sheikh Ahmed Kabalan, announced in a statement that "there is no doubt that the country is in a state of war linked to the essence of Lebanese sovereignty. What the resistance is doing on the southern front is a supreme national interest.
He said: "Meanwhile, the political situation is extremely sluggish, awaiting external interventions, which mostly come at the expense of national sovereignty.""Now, the country is left to emptiness, displacement, disconnection, crime, chaos, and a non-Lebanese workforce amidst a glaring social catastrophe and political and governmental recklessness," he continued. "This is parallel to American tools that contribute to the torment of Lebanon and work to drown the country in crises and disasters for political and sovereign extortion purposes," Kabalan stated. He added, "The country's state is shameful and eventful. There are no social, health, administrative, regulatory, or economic responsibilities. A vacuum is affecting the core of public administrations due to the catastrophe surrounding public sector employees and the reality of political failure."Kabalan continued: "Meanwhile, the struggle over Lebanon exacerbates the crisis and its risks. Without a presidential settlement, there are no solutions. Implementing Lebanese solutions means Lebanon's loss. Waiting for parliamentary elections puts Lebanon in the heart of the most dangerous international game."

Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 31-February 01.2024
US warship had close call with Houthi missile in Red Sea
Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand, CNN/Wed, January 31, 2024
A cruise missile launched by the Houthis into the Red Sea on Tuesday night came within a mile of a US destroyer before it was shot down, four US officials told CNN, the closest a Houthi attack has come to a US warship. In the past, these missiles have been intercepted by US destroyers in the area at a range of eight miles or more, the officials said. But the USS Gravely had to use its Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) for the first time since the US began intercepting the Houthi missiles late last year, which ultimately succeeded in downing the missile, officials said. The CIWS, an automated machine gun designed for close-range intercepts, is one of the final defensive lines the ship has to shoot down an incoming missile when other layers of defense have failed to intercept it. The episode underscores the threat the Houthis continue to pose to US naval assets and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, despite multiple US and British strikes on Houthi infrastructure inside Yemen. The close call also comes just days after three US service members were killed in a drone attack by Iran-backed militants at a US outpost in Jordan. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned the “reckless and illegal attacks” against US warships and commercial vessels in the region. “We can see Iran’s hand here as well, providing the Houthis with advanced conventional weapons, intelligence and expertise,” said Austin during a bilateral meeting with his British counterpart. A US official said the fact that the Gravely was not able to intercept the missile sooner does not indicate that the Houthis’ attacks have gotten more sophisticated.
The Houthis have continued to launch missiles and drones at vessels in the Red Sea, however, and on Wednesday morning were preparing to launch a surface-to-air missile that posed a risk to US aircraft operating in the region, according to US Central Command.
In a statement, CENTCOM said US forces successfully destroyed the missile before it launched. Since January 11, the US has carried out multiple strikes inside Yemen against Houthi weapons depots, command and control nodes, and storage facilities, military officials have said. Officials have declined to detail what percentage of the Houthis’ weapons capabilities have been degraded by the strikes. Iran, which supports and equips the Houthis, has continued to try to send the group weapons and supplies. Earlier this month, the US Navy seized Iranian-made ballistic and cruise missile components from a vessel off the coast of Somalia that was destined for Houthis in Yemen, according to CENTCOM. Two US Navy SEALs died in that operation after one fell overboard and the other jumped in to try to rescue him. Iran has also supplied the Houthis with tactical intelligence and monitoring systems that has allowed them to better target vessels in the Red Sea, CNN previously reported. The US is currently weighing how to respond to the drone attack in Jordan and could target certain Iranian or Iran-backed assets in the region with either strikes or cyberattacks, CNN reported. But amid the increasingly high tensions on multiple fronts in the region, US officials have repeatedly said they do not want to get embroiled in a war with Iran. “We are not looking for war with Iran. We are not seeking a conflict with the regime in the military way,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said this week. “We’re not looking to escalate here.”

Iran threatens to respond to any US strikes as Biden weighs how to react to a base attack in Jordan
JERUSALEM (AP)/January 31, 2024
Iran threatened Wednesday to “decisively respond” to any U.S. attack on the Islamic Republic following President Joe Biden's linking of Tehran to the killing of three U.S. soldiers at a military base in Jordan. The U.S. has signaled it is preparing for retaliatory strikes in the Mideast in the wake of the Sunday drone attack that also injured at least 40 troops at Tower 22, a secretive base in northeastern Jordan that's been crucial to the American presence in neighboring Syria. However, concerns remain that any additional American strikes could further inflame a region already roiled by Israel's ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea. A U.S. Navy destroyer in the waterway shot down an anti-ship cruise missile launched by the Houthis late Tuesday, the latest attack targeting American forces patrolling the key maritime trade route, officials said. The Iranian warnings first came from Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in New York. He gave a briefing to Iranian journalists late Tuesday, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. “The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the county, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” IRNA quoted Iravani as saying. He described any possible Iranian retaliation as a “strong response,” without elaborating.
The Iranian mission to the U.N. did not respond to requests for comment or elaboration Wednesday on Iravani's remarks. Iravani also denied that Iran and the U.S. had exchanged any messages over the last few days, either through intermediaries or directly. The pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, which is based in and funded by Qatar, reported earlier that such communication had taken place. Qatar often serves as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran. “Such messages have not been exchanged," Iravani said. But Iran's government has taken note of the U.S. threats of retaliation for the attack on the base in Jordan. “Sometime, our enemies raise the threat and nowadays we hear some threats in between words by American officials," Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami, who answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at an event Wednesday. "We tell them that you have experienced us and we know each other. We do not leave any threat without an answer.”“We are not after war, but we have no fear of war,” he added, according to IRNA.On Saturday, a general in charge of Iran's air defenses described them as being at their “highest defensive readiness.” That raises concerns for commercial aviation traveling through and over Iran as well. After a U.S. drone strike killed a top general in 2020, Iranian air defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. Meanwhile, attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels continue in the Red Sea, most recently targeting a U.S. warship. The missile launched Tuesday night targeted the USS Gravely, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. “There were no injuries or damage reported,” the statement said. A Houthi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, claimed the attack in a statement Wednesday morning, calling it “a victory for the oppression of the Palestinian people and a response to the American-British aggression against our country.”
Saree claimed the Houthis fired “several” missiles. something not acknowledged by the U.S. Navy. Houthi claims have been exaggerated in the past, and their missiles sometimes crash on land and fail to reach their targets. The Houthis claimed without evidence on Monday to have targeted the USS Lewis B. Puller, a floating landing base used by the Navy SEALs and others. The U.S. said there had been no attack. Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Mideast and Europe. The Houthis hit a commercial vessel with a missile on Friday, sparking a fire that burned for hours. The U.S. and the United Kingdom have launched multiple rounds of airstrikes targeting the Houthis as allied warships patrol the waterways affected by the attacks. The European Union also plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against the Houthi attacks, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

Israel demands resignation of UN Secretary General Guterres, accusing UN staff of aiding Hamas

The New Voice of Ukraine/January 31, 2024
Israel is demanding that United Nations Secretary António Guterres resign following accusations that UN staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, said Israeli Foreign Minister Irael Katz, Politico reported. Israel has accused 12 UN staff at UNRWA (UN Relief & Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East) of involvement of the Oct. 7 attack that killed approximately 1,200 Israelis, leaving around 230 as hostages. Read also: ‘Who said we don’t attack Iran’, Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear state - Netanyahu. "He (Guterres) bears responsibility as UN Secretary General,” said Katz. “Guterres has to resign or to be replaced.”The Hamas attack "did not happen in a vacuum" and Israel is to be accused of waging "56 years of suffocating occupation", Guterres said in October. “Israel must take measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to the members of the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.”, the ​UN’s International Court of Justice ordered on Jan. 26. “A cease-fire in the Gaza Strip before Hamas is defeated would allow the militants to "rearm and carry out further atrocities.", Israel officials said. Read also: Israel unlikely to change its Ukraine policy, media report says. We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Top US diplomat set to return to the Mideast for 5th time since Gaza conflict began
WASHINGTON (AP)/January 31, 2024
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East later this week on his fifth urgent diplomatic mission since I srael’s war with Hamas began in October, the White House and a State Department official said Wednesday. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and the State Department official said Blinken would travel to the Mideast this weekend as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to prepare for post-conflict reconstruction and governance of Gaza, ramp up humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, release hostages held by Hamas and prevent the war from spreading.
The trip comes as discussions over a cease-fire and hostage release are intensifying, but also as fears grow of a regional conflict. “These negotiations, our negotiations, are very, very active," Kirby said, noting talks held last weekend between CIA Director William Burns, senior Israeli and Egyptian intelligence officials and Qatar's prime minister. “We believe that the discussions have been productive. They’ve been moving in the right direction.” He also recalled a recent trip to the Mideast by national security council official Brett McGurk, a call between President Joe Biden and the emir of Qatar, whose country is the chief interlocutor with Hamas, and he said: Blinken “will be heading back over to the region at the end of this week.” The State Department official said Blinken would be traveling to the Middle East “in the coming days” but could not give exact dates or destinations because the trip was still being planned. On his previous visits, Blinken has stopped in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iraq.

Netanyahu rejects 2 key Hamas demands for any cease-fire
Associated Press/Agence France Presse/January 31, 2024
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected two key demands Hamas has made during indirect cease-fire talks, saying Israel will not withdraw from the Gaza Strip or release thousands of jailed militants. During an event Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu again vowed that the war would not end without Israel's "absolute victory" over Hamas. The Israeli PM ruled out on Tuesday releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners as part of any deal to halt fighting in Gaza. "I would like to make it clear... We will not withdraw the IDF (army) from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen," he said in an address at Eli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Israel floods Hamas tunnels as UN pleads for aid funding
Agence France Presse/January 31, 2024
Israel's army has begun flooding Hamas's network of tunnels as intense fighting rages in Gaza, with the U.N. warning of the potential "collapse of the humanitarian system" in the territory after a funding row hit its Palestinian aid agency. The epicentre of the fighting in recent weeks has been Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, where vast areas have been reduced to a muddy wasteland of bombed-out buildings, and where an AFP journalist witnessed people leaving town on Tuesday as explosions sounded nearby. "We left the Nasser hospital without any mattresses, under tank and air strikes. We didn't know where to go," said one young woman. "We're out in the cold, left to fend for ourselves, with no tents and nothing to survive on." Elsewhere in the city, Israeli troops gave journalists a tour of a tunnel they said had been used as a Hamas command centre. "Every war has its own characteristics, and I think that this war, its basic character is about that over- and underground manoeuvre," Dan Goldfus, commander of the 98th Paratroopers Division, told reporters outside of the shaft. "I think the enemy is on the run and is trying to put itself under the civilians as much as it can," he added. The Israeli military, which has dubbed the vast network of tunnels "the Gaza metro", said Tuesday that it had begun flooding the underground complexes with water in a bid to "neutralise the threat of Hamas' subterranean network".
UNRWA row
The war was touched off by Hamas's October 7 attacks on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. About 250 foreign and Israeli hostages were also dragged to Gaza during the October 7 attack, of whom around 132 are still there. That figure includes the bodies of at least 28 people believed to have been killed. Following the Hamas attack, Israel launched a withering air, land and sea offensive in Gaza that has killed at least 26,751 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The war has displaced the vast majority of Gaza's population, according to the U.N., which warned the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory would only get worse if major donors didn't restore funding to UNRWA, its main aid agency for Palestinians.
Israel has alleged that several agency staff members took part in the October 7 attacks, leading key donor countries including the United States and Germany to suspend funding.
The U.N.'s coordinator for Gaza aid, Sigrid Kaag, said Tuesday that no other agency could "replace or substitute" UNRWA, which has thousands of employees.
The heads of several U.N. agencies, including the WHO, the U.N. rights office, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, later issued a statement warning that defunding UNRWA would "have catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza".Withholding the funds, they said, was "perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences". Washington, which said it had given $131 million to UNRWA since October, said it "very much supported" the agency's work. "We want to see that work continued, which is why it is so important that the United Nations take this matter seriously, that they investigate, that there is accountability for anyone who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing," said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
Truce proposal -
After a recent meeting in Paris between U.S., Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari officials yielded a proposed framework for a truce, Hamas confirmed on Tuesday it had received the proposal and was "in the process of examining it and delivering its response". Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, whose government helped broker a previous truce in November, voiced hope an initial deal might lead to a permanent ceasefire. Sheikh Mohammed said the current plan included a phased truce that would see women and children hostages released first, with more aid also entering Gaza.
The United States also expressed hope for a deal, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that "very important, productive work has been done". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office earlier called the talks "constructive", ruled out releasing "thousands" of Palestinian prisoners as part of any deal. "I would like to make it clear... We will not withdraw the IDF (army) from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen," he said Tuesday.
Regional flare-ups -
Fears have grown that the Middle East could face a wider conflict, after months of violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, who have also targeted U.S. forces. U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday, without offering details, that he had decided on a response to a recent drone strike that killed three American troops in Jordan, but added: "I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That's not what I'm looking for."The United States and Britain have also launched a campaign of air strikes against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have carried out repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Late Tuesday, the U.S. military shot down another Houthi anti-ship missile over the vital trade route, according to U.S. Central Command. "There were no injuries or damage reported," it said in a statement.

Donors seek fast answers to allegations over U.N. agency in Gaza crisis
NEW YORK/BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters)/January 31, 2024
Any halt to operations by the U.N. Palestinian agency over Israeli accusations that some of its staff took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack could hamstring the entire humanitarian effort in devastated Gaza, aid agencies say. Donors are demanding a swift investigation before resuming funding, though they have praised the work of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza and its response so far to the allegations. UNRWA believes it has responded rapidly and transparently to Israel's allegations, which came as Israel faced a genocide case at the International Court of Justice over the Gaza war, and after years of it calling for the agency to be disbanded. Israel's offensive in the Palestinian enclave has caused the world's most acute humanitarian crisis, with 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million inhabitants homeless, large numbers starving and others falling sick. UNRWA is at the heart of all aid work in Gaza through its 13,000 employees in the enclave, its clinics and schools, many now acting as packed shelters, and its logistics hubs. "The entire aid system in Gaza will be closer to the point of collapse," said Shaina Low, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, calling UNRWA "vital in coordinating aid and providing shelter". "No other organisation than UNRWA has the infrastructure to do the work that they do," said the U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
Some 15 of the agency's most important donors, including top two the United States and Germany, have suspended funding over Israel's allegations. About $440 million is at risk, said UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma. "The decision to suspend funding from these countries is tantamount to a death sentence for Palestinians," the charity Action Aid said.
The agency and the wider U.N. now face a race to persuade donors they have responded appropriately to Israel's accusations before money runs out at the end of February.
PROACTIVE
It is not clear how long the investigation by the U.N.'s oversight office may take. It was important for it to be thorough and "unimpeachable", but also swift, U.N. spokesperson Dujarric said. Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy accused UNRWA of acting "as a front for Hamas" and said it was "not bad apples" that were the problem but a systemic failure to address accusations of support for extremism in its ranks.
Responding to those comments, Touma said UNRWA had on Jan. 17 ordered an independent review to establish the truth of longstanding claims about UNRWA and its staff. Inside the organisation, the accusation that 12 staff members took part in the Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel had come as a deep shock.
"If these allegations are true, they are a betrayal of U.N. values and a betrayal of the people we serve," Touma said. The organisation believes it has acted quickly despite Israel only making direct accusations to it about 12 staff while allegations were leaked to media that a larger number of employees have Hamas links. "UNRWA took a very proactive approach," said Touma the UNRWA spokesperson. Its head Philippe Lazzarini went to the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and to the U.S. and other top donors after Israel verbally told him on Jan. 18 it had evidence against 12 UNRWA staff, she said. Lazzarini fired those allegedly involved, an unusual step he is allowed to take "in the best interests of the agency", Touma said. "UNRWA then went public with the information before anyone else," she added. Neither Israel nor any other official source has shared with UNRWA a dossier alleging that 190 of the agency's staff members in Gaza are Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants, but learned about it only when reported in the press, Touma said. Reuters viewed and reported on the Israel intelligence dossier on Monday. UNRWA regularly shares lists of its employees with Israel and with the governments of countries hosting Palestinian refugees. It last did so in May 2023, Touma said. Israel has never provided a response to those lists "let alone an objection", she said.
A spokesperson for Israel's government did not respond to Reuters questions on what information they had shared with UNRWA and the UN and major donors or about how long it had known about Hamas links to UNRWA employees.
LONG-TERM ROLE
Israel has long criticised UNRWA and says its mandate should be given to other U.N. agencies. Its 30,000 staff provide schooling and primary health clinics for Palestinian refugees in several Middle East countries. The first ever U.N. agency, UNRWA was established by a resolution of the body's General Assembly in 1949 to look after refugees who fled or were pushed from their homes when Israel was created. Israel has long criticised the curriculum taught in schools UNRWA runs and disputes the agency's count of refugees - an important political issue in any eventual peace talks, with Palestinians demanding a right of return. "Israel would like there to be an existential threat to UNRWA because they mistakenly think if you get rid of UNRWA then you suddenly get rid of the refugees and their right to return," said former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.
"Palestinians have been told across U.N. facilities that they are still refugees from a war that took place decades ago, that they possess a right that does not exist," said the Israeli spokesperson Levy. However, UNRWA's mandate was renewed by the U.N. General Assembly in 2023 until mid 2026 and the agency could only be disbanded by a new General Assembly resolution.

Gaza's economy could take decades to recover, UN trade body says
GENEVA (Reuters)/January 31, 2024
It could take until the closing years of the century for Gaza's economy to regain its pre-conflict size if hostilities in the Palestinian enclave were to cease immediately, the U.N. trade body said in a report published on Wednesday. Israel's offensive in Gaza in the wake of attacks by Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7 have killed more than 26,000 people, according to local authorities, and decimated infrastructure and the livelihoods of its 2.3 million inhabitants. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said the conflict had precipitated a 24% contraction in Gaza's GDP (gross domestic product) and a 26.1% drop in GDP per capita for all of 2023. UNCTAD said that if the military operation were to end and reconstruction to start immediately - and if the growth trend seen in 2007-2022 persisted, at an annual average rate of 0.4% -- Gaza could restore its pre-conflict GDP levels in 2092. At best, under a scenario that GDP could grow at 10% annually, it would still take Gaza's GDP per capita until 2035 to reach the level of 2006, before Israel in 2007 made permanent a land, sea and air blockade citing security concerns. "It will take until 2092 for Gaza to go back to its 2022 level, which wasn't at all a good place for people in Gaza," said Rami Alazzeh, an economist who works on the Occupied Palestinian Territories at UNCTAD. "I think the main takeaway from the report is that the level of destruction that we're witnessing in Gaza is unprecedented. It's going to take a lot of efforts from the international community for the rebuilding and recovery in Gaza." UNCTAD said that in order to recover following a previous Israeli military intervention in Gaza in 2014, the enclave needs stood at around $3.9 billion. Those needs would be significantly higher following the current conflict, it said. "Given the level of destruction and the intensity of the damages we're witnessing currently in Gaza, and that the military operation is still ongoing, the number required for recovery in Gaza will be multiple times the $3.9 billion required after the 2014 war," Alazzeh said. Gaza's economy had been in a shambles even prior to the conflict due to the Israeli economic blockade, with the enclave's economy contracting 4.5% in the first three quarters of 2023, according to UNCTAD estimates. Two-third of the population lived in poverty and 45% of the workforce were unemployed before the conflict. As of December, unemployment had surged to a staggering 79.3%, UNCTAD said. "I don't think the international community or the people in Gaza can afford decades of humanitarian catastrophe," Alazzeh said. "Gaza needs to be part of the development agenda rather than being treated as a humanitarian case."

Trudeau says Ottawa 'actively working' to find missing Palestinian Canadian in Gaza

The Canadian Press/January 31, 2024
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is "actively engaged" after a Palestinian Canadian was reported missing in the Gaza Strip. Mansour Shouman was in the region to help document ongoing humanitarian efforts amid the raging Israel-Hamas war.
A member of a team that was supporting him in that work says loved ones lost contact with him more than a week ago. Global Affairs Canada confirmed on the weekend that it was aware of a Canadian who is missing in Gaza. The department said it was working to monitor the situation and was in direct contact with family members. No other details were disclosed for privacy reasons. "We are actively working on this. We're talking to everyone. We're taking this one very seriously," Trudeau said Wednesday. Zaheera Soomar, who worked with Shouman, said they heard early last week that he'd been seen at a hospital in the south of the Gaza Strip but was headed for Rafah. That's the location of the crossing point with Egypt through which Canadians have been able to exit the territory. Soomar said three eyewitnesses then told the group Shouman was taken last Tuesday by Israel Defense Forces while on the way to Rafah. Those eyewitness reports could not be independently verified. Shouman previously did oil and gas consulting work in Calgary and is the father of five children who left Gaza with his wife last year for Abu Dhabi, where his mother resides. He stayed behind in Gaza when his family left because he felt a duty to document the war and its ramifications. Gaza has been under constant bombardment as Israel retaliates against Hamas, which controls the territory, for a brutal attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw another 250 taken hostage. Amid a massive military response from Israel, the Hamas-run health ministry says more than 26,000 people have been killed, including militants.

Best for world if Netanyahu leaves office 'sooner rather than later': Liberal MP

The Canadian Press/January 31, 2024
OTTAWA — A Liberal member of Parliament says it would be in the best interests of the Middle East and the world if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves office. Winnipeg MP Ben Carr says he has major concerns about the Israeli government and he hopes Netanyahu will be, in his words, "gone sooner rather than later."Carr, who is Jewish, says he does not support politicians on the far right of the spectrum in Israel who display maps of Gaza with Israeli flags. He made the comments following a conference last weekend in Jerusalem where far-right lawmakers called for renewing Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. Israel's national security minister declared it was time to encourage the emigration of Palestinians from the besieged territory — something the Canadian government has firmly opposed. Governments change, says Carr, and Israel is still an ally that has an important security role to play in the region. "It's very, very important that we remember that governments come and governments go and our relationships with states are deeper than the relationship that we may have with the current government in power," he said Wednesday. "My hope is that Netanyahu will be gone sooner rather than later, because I think that's in the best interests of everybody in the region, and I think that's in the best interests of everybody around the world." Carr also made the point that the Liberal party is a "microcosm of society," and there are various views about the Israel-Hamas conflict within his caucus. The conflict began with a Hamas attack on Israel Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people. Militants took some 250 others hostage, and the Israeli government says it believes at least 100 of them are still being held in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-controlled territory has been under constant bombardment since the attack, with health authorities there saying the death toll has surpassed 26,000. Throughout the conflict, a handful of Liberal MPs, including Carr, have been vocal about their opinions on Canadian government policy — and not always aligned with it. "It makes sense that these conversations are happening and I don't think that it's a source of negativity or division," Carr said.

South Africa says all states must stop funding Israel's military
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters)/January 31, 2024
All states have an obligation to stop funding and facilitating Israel's military actions in Gaza after the World Court made clear those actions could be genocidal, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Wednesday. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last week ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide and take steps to improve the humanitarian situation of Palestinians in Gaza, in a case brought by South Africa. It stopped short of demanding a ceasefire and has not yet ruled on the core of South Africa's case, whether genocide has occurred in Gaza. That ruling could take years. South Africa has for decades been an advocate for the Palestinian cause, comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of Black South Africans under apartheid. Israel has denied allegations of genocide and rejects the comparison to the apartheid era.
"The finding (by the ICJ) we think makes it clear that it is plausible that genocide is taking place against the Palestinian people in Gaza," Pandor told reporters. "This necessarily imposes an obligation on all states to cease funding and facilitating Israel's military actions." Responding to the ICJ ruling last week, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed it as a step towards justice and said he expected Israel to abide by it.

Canada, allies condemn 'Victory Conference' as push to reoccupy Gaza gains momentum in Israel
CBC/January 31, 2024
On Tuesday, the Trudeau government appeared to criticize a jubilant "Victory Conference" in Jerusalem. Organizers of Sunday's conference — which was attended by about a third of the Israeli cabinet — presented plans for proposed Israeli settlements in Gaza. "Canada rejects any proposal that calls for the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and the establishment of additional settlements. Such inflammatory rhetoric undermines prospects for lasting peace," said a statement from Global Affairs Canada. In addition to the dozen ministers serving in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet who attended the conference, some other ministers said they had missed it only because of other duties, or that they would be sure to attend the next one. Attendees included three ministers from Netanyahu's Likud Party and representatives of other parties in his coalition. Two Likud ministers appeared in a video with settler leader Daniella Weiss last week urging people to join them at the "Nation-building Conference for the Victory of Israel." Mourners carry the Bodies of Ibrahim Awad, right, and Mohammad Fawaqa, during their funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Awad was killed during clashes with Israeli settlers near his home village of Dura al-Qara' and Fawaqa was killed during an Israeli army raid in the village of Qebia, west of Ramallah, while two other Palestinians were killed during Israeli army raids early morning in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian ministry of health said.
Mourners carry the Bodies of Ibrahim Awad, right, and Mohammad Fawaqa, during their funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Awad was killed during clashes with Israeli settlers near his home village of Dura al-Qara' and Fawaqa was killed during an Israeli army raid in the village of Qebia, west of Ramallah, while two other Palestinians were killed during Israeli army raids early morning in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian ministry of health said.More . Mourners carry the Bodies of Ibrahim Awad, right, and Mohammad Fawaqa, during their funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Awad was killed during clashes with Israeli settlers near his home village of Dura al-Qara' and Fawaqa was killed during an Israeli army raid in the village of Qebia, west of Ramallah, while two other Palestinians were killed during Israeli army raids early morning in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian ministry of health said. (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press) Those attending the event heard speeches urging the replacement of Gaza's Palestinian population with Jewish settlers, scenes of religious fervour and chants of "Oslo is dead!" — a reference to the 1993 Oslo Accords and the peace process that was supposed to lead to a Palestinian state. Weiss said at the conference she's confident Gaza will soon be open for settlement."They [Palestinians] will leave. We don't give them food, we don't give them anything. They have to leave," she said in English. "The world will accept them."
White House 'troubled'. Canada's condemnation did not mention the conference directly and came only after strong statements of repudiation from other western allies. On Monday, the White House said in a media statement that it was "troubled" by the event, and the fact that it was "endorsed and attended by members of the Government of Israel.""This rhetoric is incendiary and irresponsible, and we take the prime minister at his word when he says that Israel does not intend to reoccupy Gaza," the statement said. France's foreign ministry issued its own statement calling on the Israeli government to condemn the event. "France recalls that the International Court of Justice recently set out Israel's obligation to take all measures within its power to prevent and punish this kind of rhetoric," it said. "It is not up to the Israeli government to decide where Palestinians should live on their land."
The U.K. government said it was also "alarmed" by the presence of government figures at the event. "The U.K.'s position is clear: Gaza is occupied Palestinian territory and will be part of the future Palestinian state," said the Foreign Office. "Settlements are illegal. No Palestinian should be threatened with forcible displacement or relocation."Netanyahu's response on Tuesday was to visit Eli, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank built on land expropriated from two Palestinian villages, where he received a rapturous welcome from settlers. CBC News reached out to the Israeli embassy in Canada for comment on the conference and Canada's condemnation, but did not receive a response.
Tensions in the war cabinet
The conference sharpened tensions between members of Netanyahu's coalition government — which took power just over a year ago — and the temporary national unity war cabinet formed in the wake of the October 7 Hamas massacre, which includes Netanyahu's opponents. Gadi Eisenkot, a former commander of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) who recently lost his son and nephew fighting in Gaza, said politicians who attended the event "have not learned a single thing from the events of the past year."
While Israeli soldiers were fighting in Gaza, he said, "others are finding time for an event that divides Israeli society and increases distrust in the government."The rowdy conference was "a freak show," said former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, who served as foreign policy adviser to two Israeli PMs and chief of staff to two foreign ministers. "This is about salvation and redemption and God's will and the promises he made. You know, this is the kind of jargon that they use," he told CBC News. "But you cannot dismiss that this strain in Israeli politics, which existed for a long time now, feels emboldened and reinforced and they are in power. They're a minority, but they're nonetheless in power, encouraged enthusiastically almost by a prime minister who put them in that position."Pinkas said Netanyahu's silence about the event is telling. "He hasn't said a word about this," he said. "There's no evidence pointing to it being against his wishes, or that they did it behind his back or anything like that." National security minister calls for 'voluntary emigration'
Pinkas said he still doesn't believe the Netanyahu government is ready to officially approve settlements in Gaza. "This was not about settlement but more about shameless calls to expel and displace Palestinians, merely days after the ICJ," he said, referring to the International Court of Justice's decision last week to order Israel to prevent and punish direct incitement of genocide as it prosecutes the war in Gaza. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir did indeed use his attendance at the conference to issue a public call for "voluntary emigration" of Gazans — a term generally understood in both Tel Aviv and Washington as a euphemism for expulsion. Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attends an event to deliver weapons to local volunteer security group members in Ashkelon, Israel, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.
Netanyahu's chief political rival Benny Gantz, another former IDF chief of staff and a member of the war cabinet, is polling ahead of the prime minister. He condemned Netanyahu for not responding to Ben Gvir's speech and seemed to suggest he would use his role in the war cabinet to block any move to expel Palestinians from Gaza. "He who danced and caused division [at the conference] doesn't make the decisions, and he who remains silent and is being led along is not a leader," said Gantz.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party (who also leads Netanyahu in the polls), said the prime minister's silence on the conference "loudly says one thing — 'Let the whole country burn, what matters is that I stay in power.'"
Lapid described the wild scenes of dancing at the conference as a slap in the face to families of IDF soldiers fighting Hamas in Gaza. "Our troops are freezing in Gaza and they are dancing," he said. "Hundreds of thousands of families are in a panic over every ring at the door, and they are dancing." Support for Gaza settlement growing fast in Israel
Although leaders of the Israeli left and centre condemned the event, Tel Aviv University's Peace Index poll last Wednesday showed that about 53 per cent of Jewish Israelis are in favour of the idea of settling Gaza — twice the number that support a two-state solution.
But polls also show that most Israelis want Netanyahu gone and his Likud Party would lose half its seats in the Knesset in any election in the near future. With his credentials as Israel's "Mr. Security" already in shreds because of the October 7 massacre, Netanyahu may now be preparing to throw away his other frequent pitch to Israeli voters — his claim to be a Washington insider who can get what Israel wants from the White House and the U.S. Congress. Netanyahu could be leaning toward a new strategy that would embrace Israel's isolation by risking a more open break with the Biden administration and casting himself as the defender of Israeli expansion against pressure from allies. An Israeli settler heckles Israelis protesting near the home of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir against plans by Benjamin Netanyahu's government efforts to overhaul the judiciary, in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. Numbers like those in the Peace Index poll suggest such an approach could have electoral success. Gloom about the war's stated goal of annihilating Hamas has led some to argue that the only way to seize victory is to crown the conquest of Gaza with a new plantation of Israeli settlers — that only when Palestinians see Jewish settlers living on the ruins of their former homes will they truly understand that Israel has won and they have lost. The movement names its proposed settlements Neve Katif, or "New Harvest," in honour of the Gush Katif or "Harvest Bloc" settlements that Israel evacuated from southern coastal Gaza in 2005.
Settlers see a chance to reverse history
Jewish settlers first began to enter Gaza following Israel's capture of the territory in the 1967 War. By 2004 there were 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza, home to almost 8,000 Israelis. That year, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon decided to launch his "unilateral disengagement" plan and freeze the peace process. Sharon wanted Israel to redraw and retrench the Jewish presence across the occupied territories, reinforcing it in lands that were considered more important to Jewish tradition and more defensible — places where Jews were — or might become — a majority. Gaza met none of those requirements. Its occupation was costly to Israel in lives and in money. So Sharon ordered the evacuation of settlers from Gaza in 2005, igniting a national drama which saw many Jewish settlers barricade themselves inside their settlement homes. It was a seminal moment for young settler radicals in Israel and some were ready to go to extremes. Israel's Shin Bet security service arrested and jailed four young radical settlers for allegedly plotting attacks on infrastructure.
One of those four detained settlers, Bezalel Smotrich, is today Israel's minister of finance. Smotrich spoke at the Victory Conference, declaring that, "God willing, we will settle and we will be victorious." His party, Religious Zionism, is third-largest in the Knesset and is critical to the Netanyahu coalition's survival. His ally is Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), who also has a long history with Israel's security services, including convictions for inciting hatred and supporting terrorism. His party holds six crucial seats.
Netanyahu came to power promising western allies that he could control the radicals in what all agreed was Israel's most right-wing government ever. "My hands are firmly on the steering wheel," he assured U.S. media outlets. But his precarious personal situation has given his most radical allies leverage over him. If Smotrich or Ben Gvir were to withdraw their parties from his coalition, his government would fall — and he would have to face three pending corruption trials. Netanyahu can't be convicted in those trials while he's still prime minister. That gives the two men great influence over Netanyahu, said Pinkas. But Ben Gvir and Smotrich also need Netanyahu, because their own parties could never form a government without Likud. "There are two things [Netanyahu] manages to do with extreme skill and competence, and that is winning elections and maintaining a coalition, which you can't say about most of his rivals," he said.
Cracks in the army
In recent weeks, Israelis have remarked on a growing trend of soldiers taking political positions publicly — especially reservists, who tend to be older, have jobs in civilian life and be more willing to challenge commanders. Some army reservists have set up a tent outside the prime minister's office demanding that Israel use harsher methods in Gaza. Senior officers have worried about a growing number of soldiers posting pro-settlement messages, flying Neve Katif flags, using orange colours associated with the Gaza settlement movement, or painting pro-settlement graffiti on Palestinian homes. One such video message seen by many Israelis shows four IDF soldiers in front of destroyed buildings addressing Netanyahu. "We conquer, we destroy, we settle. Did you hear that Bibi [Netanyahu]? We conquer, we destroy, we settle." "This is a bad phenomenon," Pinkas told CBC News. "There have always been claims that unless the political system changes somehow, the military will become a factionalized reflection of what's going on in society."On Monday, Israelis were shocked to see footage of IDF soldiers wrestling a uniformed comrade to the ground and arresting him at a crossing into Gaza, where Israeli protesters have been trying to block food from entering the starving enclave. The soldier appeared to have sided with the protesters. Another video on Tuesday showed IDF reservists urging Defence Minister Yoav Gallant to stop food aid from entering Gaza. "Don't be afraid to occupy," one soldier tells him. Although Pinkas said he doesn't expect the Netanyahu government to officially approve new settlements in Gaza, "there is a possibility, that no one should take lightly, that just like the settlements in the West Bank, two vans show up out of nowhere in the middle of the night on some godforsaken hill or rubble. They put a flag and call it the ancestral Gaza." Many Israeli settlements that began in just that way have gone on to be legalized, subsidized and connected to the electrical grid. Pinkas said that during active combat operations, he would expect the army to block such an effort.
"But what happens if you have three simultaneous events like that, or three events like that within 10 days?" he asked. He said he fears that dismantling such embryonic settlements could further expose the faultlines in a politicized army. "If a brigade commander now gives an order to evacuate two illegal outposts in the West Bank or indeed in Gaza, you're going to have a bunch of soldiers who may disobey orders," he said. "And if that happens, then all hell breaks loose. This is a country that will be seriously considered as having unraveled at the seams. "We're not there yet. But there are very disconcerting signs about this."

EU aims to launch a Red Sea naval mission within 3 weeks to protect ships from rebel attacks
BRUSSELS (AP)/January 31, 2024
The European Union plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen that are hampering trade and driving up prices, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he wants the mission to be up and running by Feb. 17. Officials say that seven EU countries are ready to provide ships or planes. Belgium has already committed to send a frigate. Germany is expected to do the same. Last week, U.S. and British forces bombed multiple targets in eight locations used by the Iranian-backed Houthis. It was the second time the two allies have conducted coordinated retaliatory strikes on the rebels’ missile-launching capabilities. The Houthis have waged a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, but Borrell insisted that the EU mission will not take part in any military strikes. “This is the purpose: protection of the ships. Intercepting of the attacks against the ships. Not participating in any kinds of actions against the Houthis. Only blocking the attacks of the Houthis,” Borrell told reporters before chairing a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels. The ministers were expected to decide later Wednesday which member country should lead the naval effort — France, Greece and Italy are vying for that role — and where the mission’s headquarters should be based. Borrell said that businesses have been demanding EU action, given the trade implications of forcing merchant ships to bypass the Red Sea on their way to and from Europe. “Many European firms asked us to do that because their business model is suffering a lot due to the high increase in cost and having to go down to South Africa,” he said, referring to the alternative route that commercial ships are taking. “It’s affecting prices, it’s affecting inflation. So, it’s a natural endeavor for us to try to avoid this risk.” The Russian jet was detected in international airspace over Ruegen, a German island in the Baltic Sea. "The IL-20M military aircraft was flying without a transponder signal over the Baltic Sea", the Air Force said. The German jets accompanied it for a short time before it turned back east. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin repeated threats to use military force against European countries must be taken seriously, Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said on Jan. 30. We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Hungary opposes billions in new EU aid for Ukraine. A new summit will try to change that
BRUSSELS (AP)/January 31, 2024
European Union leaders at a summit on Thursday will focus on the one member state blocking a 50-billion-euro ($54 billion) war support package for Ukraine: Hungary, the country in the bloc with the closest ties to Russia. Almost two years after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, the war has ground to a virtual stalemate and Ukraine desperately needs financial assistance. “Securing agreement is vital for our credibility, and not least for our commitment to provide steadfast support to Ukraine,” EU Council president Charles Michel said in his invitation letter to leaders of the 27-member bloc. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to take part with a video speech, according to Michel's office. The aid requires unanimous support. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed it at a previous summit in December and continues to oppose it.
“In December, we still had a little time. But from March onwards, Ukraine will start running into difficulties according to international financial institutions,” a senior EU diplomat warned ahead of the meeting in Brussels. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with EU practices. For most EU countries, helping Ukraine is crucial to protect the bloc from Russia's threats and maintain its credibility on the global stage. "Ukraine is on European soil. It is a European country. And if we want a peaceful and stable Europe, we need to be credible in terms of our own security and defense vis-à-vis all our neighbors,” French president Emmanuel Macron said. Orban has repeatedly angered EU leaders since Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022. He criticized EU sanctions on Russia as being largely ineffective and counter-productive. He pushed for peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, though he hasn’t detailed what that might mean for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. At the previous EU summit, however, Orban did not prevent the EU from starting membership negotiations with Ukraine. Concerned about democratic backsliding by Orban’s government, the EU has frozen Hungary’s access to tens of billions of euros in funds. Hungary, with its own economic concerns, has responded by vetoing some EU political decisions. Instead of unlocking the new aid for Ukraine, Orban has proposed to split it into annual tranches and introduce a review mechanism. But that idea has not been well received because it would allow Orban to block the money later. If the stalemate remains, it will not mean that Ukraine will suddenly be deprived of EU assistance. The EU diplomat said leaders will make sure it won't impact Ukraine in the short term. The 26 other countries could decide, on a voluntary basis, to decouple the aid from the EU budget. But it’s not their favorite option since it would require approval from several national parliaments, creating more uncertainty. Another scenario could see EU leaders extending by one year the 18 billion euros ($19.5 billion) in financial assistance they provided in 2023 to Ukraine from another program, and top it up with additional loans. That could be adopted with a qualified majority, meaning Hungary could not stop it. In total, EU support to Ukraine since the war began amounts to some 85 billion euros ($92 billion), according to EU figures. That includes more than 40 billion euros ($43 billion) to support Ukraine’s economy, around 27 billion euros ($29.2 billion) in military assistance measures and over 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) to help EU member states support Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The logistics of war: How Washington is preparing for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan
Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali/WASHINGTON (Reuters)/January 31, 2024
When U.S. and Australian troops practiced amphibious landings, ground combat and air operations last summer, they drew headlines about the allies deepening defense cooperation to counter China's growing military ambitions.
But for U.S. war planners preparing for a potential conflict over Taiwan, the high-profile Talisman Sabre exercises had a far more discreet value: They helped create new stockpiles of military equipment that were left behind in Australia after the drills ended in August, U.S. officials told Reuters. The United States and its allies are increasingly worried that in the coming years Chinese President Xi Jinping could order his military to seize Taiwan, the democratically-governed island China considers its own territory. So, the U.S. military is taking a hard look at its own military readiness and trying to play catch-up in a critical area: its logistics network. The equipment from Talisman Sabre included roughly 330 vehicles and trailers and 130 containers in warehouses in Bandiana, in southeastern Australia, the Army says. The amount of equipment, which has not been previously reported, is enough to supply about three logistics companies, with as many as 500 or more soldiers, focused on ensuring supplies reach warfighters. It's the kind of materiel that's needed for a future drill, a natural disaster, or in a war. "We're looking to do this more and more," Army General Charles Flynn, the top Army commander in the Pacific, told Reuters in an interview.
"There's a number of other countries in the region where we already have agreements to do that," he added, without naming specific countries. Reuters interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials found that American military logistics in the Pacific is one of the greatest U.S. vulnerabilities in any potential conflict over Taiwan. U.S. war games have concluded that China would likely try to bomb jet fuel supplies or refueling ships, crippling U.S. air and sea power without having to battle heavily armed fighter jets or sink America's fleet of surface warships, according to current and former officials and experts. In response, the United States is trying to spread its military logistics hubs across the region - including warehouses in Australia, officials told Reuters. Asked about Reuters' conclusions, the Pentagon said that the Department of Defense is working with allies to make U.S. forces more mobile and distributed. But critics say Washington's network is still too concentrated and that the government hasn't put enough money or urgency toward the effort. "When you really dig down a couple of layers, the intel community is blinking red as far as for the next five years. And yet some of these timelines (to address the risks) are 10, 15, 20 years long," said Congressman Mike Waltz, a Republican who leads the House subcommittee overseeing military logistics and readiness.
"There's a mismatch there."
RISKS FOR THE U.S.
The U.S. military's logistics arm, U.S. Transportation Command (TransCom), has had a major success: funneling more than 660 million pounds of equipment and over 2 million rounds of artillery to the Ukrainian military in its war with Russia.
Supporting Taiwan, roughly 100 miles from the coast of China, would be orders of magnitude harder, U.S. officials and experts acknowledge. The U.S. has not formally said it would intervene if China were to attack Taiwan but President Joe Biden has repeatedly suggested he would deploy U.S. troops to defend the island. Xi has ordered his military to be ready to take Taiwan by 2027. But many analysts see that as an attempt to galvanize his military rather than a timeline for invasion. A senior U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said supplies of ammunition are at the top of the list of priorities in the Indo-Pacific, followed by fuel, food and spare parts for equipment. "If we run out of the things to shoot ... that's going to be an immediate problem," the official said, adding planning for a Taiwan contingency was already well underway. U.S. officials warn that in a major conflict Navy ships could quickly run out of missile defenses. In a war game run for Congress in April, China prepared for an amphibious assault on Taiwan with massive air and missile strikes against U.S. bases in the region. That included the U.S. naval base on the Japanese island of Okinawa and the Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. The potential impact of attacks on U.S. logistics hubs, refueling ships and aerial refueling tankers, was a "wake up call" for many lawmakers, said Becca Wasser at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank, which ran the war game.
"China is going to purposely go after some of the logistics nodes to make it difficult for the United States to sustain operations in the Indo-Pacific," Wasser said. To address such vulnerabilities, the U.S. military is looking to places like Australia as more secure locations to stockpile equipment, even as it expands cooperation with the Philippines, Japan and other partners in the Pacific. The Biden administration announced in July the United States would also create an interim logistics center in Bandiana, Australia with the aim of eventually creating an "enduring logistics support area" in Queensland. According to an internal U.S. military document seen by Reuters, the facilities in Bandiana could hold more than 300 vehicles and had 800 pallet positions.
In July, the U.S. Air Force carried out Mobility Guardian 23, an exercise in the Indo-Pacific with Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, that included practicing air refueling and medical evacuations. The military used the opportunity to leave behind equipment, including in Guam. That gear helped forces there deal with fallout from the recent Typhoon Mawar but would also be useful in any future conflict, said Air Force Major General Darren Cole, the director of operations at Air Mobility Command. Cole noted his command was responsible not just for disaster relief but contingencies "all the way up to full combat operations, full scale major war."
FROM "JUST IN TIME" TO "JUST IN CASE"
There has been a shift in the United States military's thinking. For decades, the United States has not had to worry about a foreign power targeting its logistics bases. That allowed planners to focus on efficiency, adopting the "just-in-time" logistics model common among private-sector manufacturers. That approach led to the cost-saving decision to create mega-bases, like Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ramstein was safe from Taliban and Islamic State attacks. But a conflict with China could make mega bases, which include Camp Humphreys near Seoul, prime targets. This risk is prompting the switch to a more costly approach to logistics that includes dispersing U.S. stockpiles and pre-positioning supplies around the region. "Instead of planning for efficiency, you probably (need) to plan for effectiveness, and move from 'Just in time' to 'Just in case,'" said Rear Admiral Dion English, one of the Pentagon's top logistics officers. The U.S. did this in Europe after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, pre-positioning stocks and investing in bases and airfields that deploying U.S. troops could use if needed. In the five years leading up to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon requested $11.65 billion in funding from Congress to preposition equipment in Europe. By contrast, a Reuters analysis of the Pentagon's budget request found that the military currently plans to only ask for $2.5 billion from fiscal year 2023 to 2027 to preposition equipment and fuel and improve logistics in Asia. The Pentagon has an annual budget of about $842 billion currently. Another costly problem is the aging fleet of U.S. transport ships. The average age of the ships designed to carry heavy cargo, like tanks, into a conflict zone is 44 years with some older than 50 years. One blistering analysis by CNAS concluded: "The Department of Defense has systematically underinvested in logistics in terms of money, mental energy, physical assets, and personnel." Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon and Congress needed far more focus on Pacific bases and logistics. "Our ability to deter conflict in the Western Pacific over the next five years is not close to where it needs to be," he told Reuters.

Latest English LCCC  analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 31-February 01.2024
Middle East conflict: Joe Biden must weigh the risks of using force in an election year
Andrew Payne, Lecturer in Foreign Policy and Security, City, University of London/The Conversation/Wed, January 31, 2024
The recent drone attack that killed three US soldiers has placed Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict in the Middle East under renewed scrutiny. Under pressure from critics demanding a hard-hitting response, the president has vowed to “hold all those responsible to account”.
But using force in an election year is fraught with political risk.
Recent polls suggests the US public is divided about the Gaza conflict. According to a poll last month, 39% of voters favour a continuation of Israel’s military campaign, while 44% say that Israel should stop to avoid mounting civilian casualties. Another poll suggests that the sympathies of those who voted for Biden in 2020 are evenly split between Israel and the Palestinians.
Crucially, 57% of voters disapprove of the president’s handling of the war. This sentiment is particularly strong among younger voters and Democrats, upon whom Biden’s hopes for reelection may depend.
Biden’s Republican opponents have also lined up to lambast him. Donald Trump, who looks all but certain to secure his party’s nomination for November’s presidential election, attributed the recent attack to Biden’s “weakness and surrender” while Nikki Haley, Trump’s only remaining Republican challenger, suggested that the US should “go after” Iran’s military leaders.
Facing criticism on all sides, the ideal solution for Biden is likely to be one that satisfies public demands to “do something” without alienating his base or provoking a widening of the war.
Balancing risks
Biden’s challenge is a familiar one. As I show in my recent book, presidents throughout history have taken political considerations into account when making decisions about war and peace. As both commander-in-chief and holder of the highest elected US office, presidents must balance the competing interests of national security and political survival.
Usually, that results in a degree of caution. Since voters bear the brunt of the human and financial costs of war, they tend not to reward incumbents who recklessly engage in conflict. So presidents have good political reasons to think twice before putting troops in harm’s way. As former president George W. Bush once joked to troops in the Middle East: “You don’t run for office in a democracy and say, ‘Please vote for me, I promise you war.’”
But the strength of this kind of democratic constraint can vary across contexts and over time. Mounting casualties tend to erode support for lengthy commitments, but shocking events or provocations like those that took place over the weekend can also lead to a public demand for retribution.
Lessons from history
We have been here before. Almost exactly four years ago, Trump authorised the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a senior Iranian military commander, apparently motivated in part by a desire to appear tough in an election year. Trump then decided to de-escalate, declining to respond militarily for attacks on bases housing US troops in Iraq. It was a sign that his appetite for a direct conflict with Iran was moderated by similar political realities that now face his successor.
Trump’s recent criticism of Biden’s policies – including his claim on social media that “this attack would NEVER have happened if I was president, not even a chance” – conveniently fails to mention this. But it is the kind of counterfactual criticism that candidates who are challenging an incumbent have often tended to embrace, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be held accountable for delivering on policies that may prove unwise or unworkable. At least, not until after the election.
Elsewhere, my research indicates that these dynamics also featured during previous conflicts involving the US. During the war in Iraq, for example, the administrations of both Bush and Obama grew increasingly anxious about additional or extended troop deployments as elections loomed.
More broadly, several studies find that leaders facing reelection tend to be more conflict-averse, entering fewer wars in the months before an election than during other parts of their tenure.
Ending endless wars?
Whether or not a lasting diplomatic solution to the crisis in Gaza can be found remains to be seen. But from a wider perspective, the genie may already be out of the bottle. It is only a few short months since the US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, triumphantly declared that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades”.
On Monday, by contrast, secretary of state Antony Blinken warned that the Middle East faces its most “dangerous” situation since at least 1973.
These rhetorical gymnastics reflect a fast-moving strategic reality. But they also render hollow the political promises of successive presidents – including Biden – to bring an end to the era of major military operations in the wider region.
The reality is that many of the forces deployed to the region during the fight against the Islamic State never left. The US still has thousands of troops stationed in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. It is these forces that have been subject to periodic attacks from Iranian proxies. Over 150 such attacks have taken place since October 7.
Coupled with the joint US-UK airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, the promised response to last weekend’s attack indicates we may be entering the latest instalment of the “endless wars” from which Biden had hoped to move on. The episode therefore raises questions about the scope of the broader US military commitment in the Middle East – and whether either candidate is prepared to make clear the real strategic trade-offs implied in their promises.
In the meantime, we can be sure of one thing: war is very much on the ballot in November’s presidential election.
*Andrew Payne is a Nonresident Fellow at the Institute for Global Affairs

Denmark Bans ‘Sacrilege’ (Guess for Which Religion)

Raymond Ibrahim/January 31, 2024
Denmark recently capitulated, forfeiting its hard-fought freedoms to those who hate it. According to a recent report, Denmark’s parliament has passed a bill that makes it illegal to burn copies of the Quran in public places… The bill, which prohibits “inappropriate treatment of writings with significant religious importance for a recognized religious community,” was passed with 94 votes in favor and 77 opposed… In practical terms, it will be forbidden to burn, tear or otherwise defile holy texts publicly or in videos intended to be disseminated widely. Those who break the law risk a fine or up to two years in prison… The purpose of the law is to counter “the systematic mockery” that, among other things, has contributed to intensifying the threat of [Islamic] terrorism in Denmark, the Ministry of Justice said.
There is much to say here. First, it is interesting to note that the new bill does not single out Islam or the Koran by name, but rather seeks to protect from desecration “writings with significant religious importance for a recognized religious community.” By employing such generic wording that applies to and presumably protects every religious text and community — though everyone knows the law exists exclusively to protect the Muhammadan creed — the Danes appear to have taken a play from the Islamic gamebook.
As it happens, the blasphemy laws of many Muslim nations do not officially protect Islam alone but extend to other religions. (Egypt, for example, criminalizes the mockery of “heavenly” religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism — though the law is virtually exclusively used to protect Islam.) Muslim nations — and now Denmark — pretend to protect all religions in order to appear neutral, objective, not siding with this or that faith. Muslim nations also do it for their image: better to appear interested in protecting the sanctity of all religions rather than appear as rabid fanatics who cannot tolerate criticism.
Second, in adopting what amounts to a “blasphemy” law, Denmark has effectively declared that it is not a nation of principles, but rather one willing to compromise its ethos to appease thugs. Denmark, bear in mind, was once at the fore of zealously defending free speech and expression. No more; now Danish law is being dictated by non-Danes. What other Danish principles will need to make way for the conquerors of Europe? As Inger Stojberg, leader of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats party said in response to this new law: “History will judge us harshly for this and with good reason… What it all comes down to is whether a restriction on freedom of speech is determined by us or whether it is dictated from the outside [meaning the Muslim world and their globalist abettors].”
Supporters of Denmark’s new blasphemy law insist that this law has been promulgated for Denmark’s security. Due to the burning of Korans in Denmark (and Sweden), violence in and threats to Nordic nations has grown. Not only does this position ignore why Europeans are burning the Koran in the first place (because they abhor its violent teachings) and why Muslims are reacting with terrorism (because they uphold its violent teachings), but it is a fact that if the shoe was, as they say, on the other foot, Denmark would not capitulate its principles to appease its enemies.
Imagine for a moment if an atheist or Satanist burned a Bible in Denmark (and many have), and throngs of Christians responded with violence and terrorism. Would Denmark respond by banning the burning of the Bible, or would it have pontificated about the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression, grandstanded about how no religion can be singled out for preferential treatment, expressed zero tolerance, and arrested every last protesting or rioting Christian? Some will say Christians do not react this way, but what if they did? Would Denmark respond with appeasement or force? The answer should be as clear as day. In retrospect, rather than ban the burning of the Koran, it seems that Denmark might have served itself better had it banned the Koran altogether.

Who Is Expanding Which War In The Middle East?
By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*/MEMRI Daily Brief No. 567/January 31, 2024 |
According to Iranian sources, after the killing of three American soldiers by an Iranian-controlled militia drone on January 28, the Biden Administration feverishly messaged the Iranian regime that "the United States did not want an open war." Iran supposedly responded that "Tehran rejected Washington's threats and said targeting its territory is a red line, and crossing the line would be met with an appropriate response. Tehran's message said that it does not want a war with Washington either, but it will forcefully confront any American adventure."[1]
That is likely not the entire story. It is also probable that there was an American warning serious enough to be believed. Something like, "any attack by proxies will be interpreted as a direct Iranian attack and responded to inside Iran." That is why the Iraqi militia/death squad Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH), widely believed to be the culprit of the attack, announced on January 30 that it was ceasing any attacks on the Americans and claimed that – incredibly – "Iranians had no role in past attacks on American bases in the region."[2]
The Americans are intending to pull off an interesting trick, simultaneously trying to communicate resolve, power, and appeasement, all at the same time. For an administration that boasted about diplomacy and that painted its predecessor Trump as a dangerous warmonger, the Bidenites have been quite busy in the war business. Aside from simmering tensions with Russia and China, the Americans have used their military to respond to attacks in Syria and Iraq and Yemen in recent months.
But it is true that the United States has sought to prevent a wider war after October 7, 2023, when Hamas invaded Israel. One American goal has been to deter or delay Israel expanding the war into Lebanon against Hezbollah. The Biden Administration has repeatedly and publicly signaled about its concerted efforts to rein Israel in and, indeed, about reining itself in: "We do not want the war to expand."
The war has expanded nevertheless. The day after the Hamas assault, Lebanese Hezbollah went into action, first at Shebaa Farms and then all along the border with Israel. Israel has responded.
A few rockets were fired into Israel from Syria and the Israelis have responded. The "Islamic Resistance in Iraq," an umbrella of Iranian-directed Shia militias in Iraq, have claimed several attacks on Israel proper, by drones and missiles. But most of the action in Syria and Iraq has not been directed against Israel but against American military bases in those two countries, with about 160 attacks using Iranian rockets and drones before the deadly success of January 28.[3] The Americans responded occasionally to those attacks inside Syria and Iraq, roughly at the scale of one American response to every 15 attacks on its assets.
On October 19, the Houthis in Yemen entered the war, beginning with several attempted missile strikes on Israel, then strikes on merchants ships possibly connected to Israel, then unconnected merchant shipping, then outright targeting of American warships. Iran openly boasted of this action as part of a broader regional strategy.[4]
And Iran itself has escalated directly over the past month, using a kamikaze drone to strike a tanker in the Indian Ocean and firing missiles from inside Iran to hit a civilian target in Erbil, in Northern Iraq.
Iran has several goals in these attacks. Obviously, it is a basic goal of Iranian policy to drive the United States from the region, beginning with Syria and Iraq. But Iran seeks to pressure the United States with the threat of a wider war in order to motivate the Americans to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza so that Iran's ally Hamas survives the war, more or less, battered but intact.[5]
To accomplish this goal of securing the survival, if not the outright victory, of Hamas both Iran and Qatar pursue complementary strategies. While Qatar seeks to save Hamas through negotiations about hostages, Iran seeks to do so by dangling the specter of a wider conflict before the Americans.[6]
Widening a conflict or escalating it through multiple nodes can be a great equalizer, a type of security jujitsu. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies took a range of punitive actions against Russia. American strategists have boasted of the damage they have been able to inflict on Russia on the battlefield at relatively little cost to the American taxpayer. But everything has a price, especially when it comes to adversaries of substance. We raised the cost to Russia of its actions and Russia has done the same to us – drawing closer to China, empowering Iran and North Korea,[7] projecting power in Africa and even encouraging anti-yanqui rogue states in Latin America. It is no surprise that Russian allies Nicaragua and Venezuela have weaponized migration flows against the United States.[8]
The United States preemptively signaling that it does not want wider wars to adversaries like Iran is making, at least, a rhetorical mistake.[9] Certainly, the United States is in real danger of imperial overreach, of being too involved in too many conflicts, of micromanaging too many things (like trying to do so with Israel in Gaza).[10] But revisionist states like Iran (and Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba) need to understand in a visceral way that the United States has relatively inexpensive ways to inflict pain, to be ruthless against the provocations of adversaries.
Deterrence is not something we tell ourselves but something our adversaries fear about us. Our enemies are starting to believe that we are relatively powerful in principle but constrained in reality, hamstrung mostly by ourselves. In the case of Iran, the Biden Administration has hamstrung itself by three years of pursuing (initially with Russia's help, by the way) the seductive chimera of a rapprochement with Iran. Where Trump was believed to be unpredictably aggressive, the Biden Administration now – outside Ukraine – is seen as predictably passive. Passive (or complicit) in defending our own borders, passive in supporting our allies, passive in dealing out pain to our adversaries.
This does not require more costly and ponderous American wars, which are something to be avoided. We need to spend less money and be more ruthless, have a lighter footprint with a heavier punch. The Houthis have enemies in Yemen that could be supported as does Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Iranian regime itself has enemies on its borders and inside Iran. The same thing is true with our adversaries in the Western Hemisphere. And, as much as some quarters in the Administration may hate it, unleashing rather than reining in Israel is another way to show Iran that it will pay a heavy price for its actions but one that Washington clearly rejects.[11]
*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.
[1] Iranintl.com/en/202401300942, January 30, 2024.
[2] Msn.com/en-us/news/world/iraqs-kataib-hezbollah-says-it-suspends-attacks-on-us-forces/ar-BB1hvRTg, January 30, 2024.
[3] See MEMRI Clip No. 10795 Iraqi Hizbullah Brigades Spokesman Jaafar Al-Husseini: We Have Attacked US Bases In Iraq And Syria, As Well As Vital Targets In Israel; Next Stage Could Include The Gulf Countries; The Resistance Axis Will Spread To East Asia And The Caucasus, January 9, 2024.
[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11020, Iranian Regime Mouthpiece 'Kayhan': 'The Most Important Strategy Of The Resistance Front... Must Be To Create Horror In All [Global] Relationships And Commerce With The Zionist Regime', December 14, 2023.
[5] Middleeasteye.net/opinion/gaza-us-stop-regional-war-reigning-in-israel, January 8, 2024.
[6] Timesofisrael.com/potential-deal-would-reportedly-see-6-week-pause-release-of-all-civilian-hostages, January 31, 2024.
[7] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11103, Russian Outlet On North Korean Foreign Minister's Visit To Russia: North Korea 'Is No Longer A Rogue State – It Is A Member Of The Most Powerful Military-Political Bloc On Earth', January 29, 2024.
[8] Blogs.elconfidencial.com/mundo/tribuna-internacional/2024-01-31/venezuela-petroleo-migracion-extorsion_3820912, January 31, 2024.
[9] Theguardian.com/us-news/video/2024/jan/30/us-says-it-is-not-seeking-war-with-iran-after-troops-killed-in-drone-attack-video, January 29, 2024.
[10] Theamericanconservative.com/how-many-proxy-wars-is-enough, January 30, 2024.
[11] See MEMRI Clip No. 10832, Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi: The Confrontation Between Iran And Israel Will Continue As Long As Israel Exists; Even If A Palestinian State Is Established, We Will Never Recognize The Plundering Zionist Entity, January 22, 2024.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad: what you need to know about the militant group
Antonella Acinapura, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Middle East Centre, University of Oxford/The Conversation/January 31, 2024
A missile struck Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City on October 17 2023, killing 471 Palestinians – according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Palestinians blamed an Israeli airstrike, while Israel blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant group.
Since 1984, PIJ has been carrying out armed attacks against Israel. The group also participated in the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people and the kidnapping of a further 240. But, despite being the third-largest Palestinian organisation, PIJ remains less known than Hamas. The popular image of PIJ is often that of a terrorist group operating in the shadow of Hamas and bent on destroying Israel with the support of Iran. In this article, I dispel three misconceptions about PIJ: its dependency on Hamas, its radicalism and its ties with Iran. Read more: Why did Hamas attack, and why now? What does it hope to gain?
In the shadow of Hamas?
PIJ does occasionally coordinate its military actions with Hamas. But the group does not operate in the shadow of Hamas and often acts independently. Both groups emerged as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation founded in Egypt in 1928 that advocated for the application of Islamic law in all aspects of society. However, their identities and strategies diverge. Hamas was born as a social movement with political and military aspirations, while PIJ emerged primarily as an armed group. As a result, PIJ has never been interested in providing social welfare programmes or participating in elections (though an election has not been held in the Gaza Strip since 2006). Its role is limited to armed resistance. This doesn’t imply that PIJ has no interest in politics. Rather, it believes it is premature to focus on political power until a full Palestinian national sovereignty, free of “foreign” occupation, is established. PIJ and Hamas are united in the war against Israel. But tensions between the two often simmer beneath the surface, reflecting a delicate balance between cooperation and competition. A few days before the October 7 attacks, PIJ organised a military parade to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the organisation’s founding. During the event, it showcased new models of self-manufactured weapons, reflecting the recent growth of its military capabilities in Gaza and its independence from Hamas.
The most radical faction?
PIJ rejects political compromises and sees violence as the only possible means of defeating Israel. The group rejected Hama’s proposal in 2006 for a long-term truce with Israel. But PIJ is less dogmatically radical than one might assume. Unlike Hamas, PIJ has never patrolled the streets of Gaza to persecute “deviant” behaviour or impose strict Islamic morals on the local population. And, while PIJ vehemently opposes the Palestinian Authority (the self-governing body that has limited rule over parts of the occupied West Bank), the group refrains from violent clashes with its dominant political party, Fatah.
PIJ maintains cordial relations with all Palestinian political forces and often positions itself as a mediator between Fatah and Hamas. Throughout the repeated cycles of violence with Israel, there have even been instances when PIJ has temporarily softened its stance. In the past, the group has discussed the possibility of limiting its armed struggle to the goal of liberating the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in the six-day war of 1967, rather than to the total destruction of Israel. This stance may not align with the official manifesto, but it reflects strategic efforts to maintain a unified national programme that would be supported by more moderate factions. According to PIJ, internal disagreements would only benefit the enemy. PIJ has adopted an official position of neutrality over various regional conflicts to avoid upsetting anyone and to keep Palestinian issues outside the dangers of regional sectarianism. For example, during the war in Syria, which began in 2011, Hamas has gradually severed its ties with the Syrian regime and supported the popular revolts. PIJ, on the other hand, has refused to take a side.
An Iranian proxy?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has long articulated support for the Palestinian cause. It has cultivated relations with groups across the region who position themselves against Israel and the US. PIJ does receive significant financial and military support from Iran. However, there is a distinction in religious ideologies – the Sunni PIJ does not share religious affinities with Shia Iran. So, PIJ’s role in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict should not be reduced to a puppet under Iran’s control. When delving into PIJ’s writings, one may be surprised by the geopolitical analysis offered by its leaders. Rather than relying solely on religious rhetoric, they consistently frame the conflict as an asymmetrical power struggle against an occupier state considered an outpost of western colonial powers. From this perspective, PIJ regards Iran as a source of inspiration. In 1979, the Iranian revolution successfully overthrew the country’s west-friendly regime and subsequently severed ties with Israel.
People driving their motorcycles down a city road holding Iranian flags and banners commemorating the Iranian Revolution.People commemorating the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in Tehran, Iran. Amin Monfared/Shutterstock
But, despite oaths of loyalty to the Iranian regime, there have been times when the honeymoon between PIJ and Iran has suffered setbacks. PIJ refused to support the Houthi rebels in the ongoing Yemen civil war, causing Iran to temporarily cut off its funding.
PIJ today finds itself financially dependent on Iran. But the Iranian regime does not control its military actions. PIJ has emphasised that its armed struggle is specifically directed at Israel and not the west. As a result, it has refrained from engaging in terrorist attacks outside Palestinian territories and Israel. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Antonella Acinapura does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Dilemmas of Open-Ended Conflicts
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Charles Elias Chartouni/This is Beirut site/January 31/2024
https://eliasbejjaninews.com/archives/126582/126582/

The most intriguing feature of this war is its mutating complexion and overlapping dynamics drawing on the open-ended conflicts of an imploded Middle East. The strategic overstretch of Iranian power politics seems boundless and puts at stake the future of peace in the region. Far from being circumscribed to Gaza, this conflict questions the future of Middle Eastern geopolitics and the likelihood of conflict resolution. The unleashed violence raises thorny issues and questions the ability to address them while avoiding the pitfalls of protracted conflicts and their nihilistic propensities.
Is it possible to finish off the war in Gaza without defeating Hamas? Is it possible to avoid a full-fledged confrontation in Lebanon without disarming Hezbollah, recovering Lebanese sovereignty and implementing the 1701 UN resolution? Is it possible to engage Iran diplomatically without putting an end to its ability and determination to disrupt the regional order, sabotage the international maritime pathways on the Red Sea, pursue its nuclear militarization, broadcast its annihilation objectives towards Israel and catalyze destabilization strategies throughout the Middle East? The Iranian regime is instrumenting proxy wars and low-intensity conflicts, while diligently undermining civil concord all across the Middle East.
The Iranian strategy is unlikely to be deciphered unless we understand the nexus between the survival of a highly controversial regime, the unraveling of international and regional orders and the politics of active destabilization and open conflicts. The gradual takeover of four major countries and proto-national entities in the Near East (Irak, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the Palestinian Territories) and the Southern end of the Arabian peninsula, the instrumentalization of civil wars and terrorist movements and the active engagement of the new Cold War shifting coalitions are essential if we were to come to terms with the politics of subversion operating all across the region.
Is it possible to put an end to the war in Gaza without defeating Hamas, and addressing the critical issues of alternative governance which brings back to the forefront the overall solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Aside from the critical security issues unveiled in the aftermath of October 7th, 2023, is it realistic to set aside the emergency of an international conference that brings back both parties to the table to finalize the pending issues bequeathed by 7 decades of negotiations? It’s impossible, from now on, to consider the interlocked issues and deal with them separately, as if they were unrelated to each other. The defeat of Hamas is the prelude to renewed negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian authority. Hamas and its acolytes have doomed themselves, and they can never claim any legitimacy since they utterly failed their criminal military undertaking, demonstrated their moral depravation and moral callousness towards the civilian population in Gaza, and cannot formally request their participation in the eventual peace deliberations. The restoration of the status quo ante is nonsensical and urges the conflicting parties to prepare the future scenarios of deconfliction and peacemaking.
The Lebanese operational theater brings us back to the aporias of Lebanese sovereignty and its discretionary instrumentalization by regional power politics, over the last six decades, and its disastrous consequences. Israel is categorically opposed to the actual state of affairs, whereby Hezbollah and its partners shelter behind the sham of Lebanese Statehood to undermine Israeli national security. The ensuing dilemmas are the following: 1/ the ability of the Lebanese State to restore its national sovereignty, and put an end to the legal and political extraterritoriality and status usurpation instrumented by Shiite extremists and their acolytes; 2/ the reinstatement of a security zone larger than the one of the eighties (1985-2000, 900 Km2= 350 miles); 3/ the implementation of the international resolutions (1559, 1680, 1701, 2695) which stipulate the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty, the disarmament of militias and more specifically Hezbollah and the Palestinian camps, the full control of the Lebanese army, and the exclusivity of the UN peacekeeping mission…
Observers of the Lebanese political scenery are quite wary about the readiness of Hezbollah to abide by the mandates of Lebanese sovereignty and the international resolutions and security mandates. These basic observations reflect the quandaries of national sovereignty, neo-imperial politics in the Middle East and the viability of the extant geopolitics challenged by Iranian and Turkish power politics and Islamist terror movements. Short of an overall political agreement between the US, its allies and Iran, the State of Israel is unwilling to condone the state of affairs and deal with the lingering ambiguities of Lebanese sovereignty and its security hazards.
The challenges to maritime security highlighted lately the menaces of Houthi proxies and their incidence on international trade security. The strategic threats are heightened and their incidence on global security question the international treaties, the UN charts and their inherent rules of civility. The US coalition’s retaliatory attacks are meant to draw the demarcation line, dissuade the repeated violations of international law and seafarer security, and reaffirm the primacy of diplomacy and peaceful conflict resolution. The Iranians are not willing, so far, to normalize and engage the international community rules.
The structural fragility of the Iranian regime is a major impediment to normalization and accounts for the interrelated politics of internal repression and regional destabilization. The Iranian politics made up of brigandage, nuclear militarization, international terrorism and a criminal economy cannot sustain the mandated course of normalization and will inevitably lead to war. The international community, Western and Arab regimes cannot adjust to the shifting priorities of the Iranian subversion strategy navigating the murky waters of international terrorism, organized criminality and widespread civil wars, and claiming not to erode the foundations of international peace. This ambiguity is coming to an end, either by inviting war or seeking peace.

Shrinking UK army equals reduced power and influence
Mohamed Chebaro/Arab News/January 31, 2024
Could Western countries fight in a major new war? Could their populations stomach conscription or national service? Comments made last week by the retiring head of the UK’s armed forces cast a heavy shadow over the future of the West’s ability to remain able to democratize, deter and, if need be, defend.
“As the prewar generation, we must similarly prepare,” Gen. Sir Patrick Sanders said, claiming that it is a “whole-of-nation undertaking.” Sanders went on to explain that “Ukraine really matters. It is the principal pressure point on a fragile world order that our enemies wish to dismantle.” Sanders alluded to the enormous influence of China, as well as Iran’s destabilizing and ascending influence, making it feel like the battle lines are being redrawn. He added that it is not overstating the situation to say that “ours” is a prewar generation living in a prewar world.
His words must surely have sent shock waves through British society and the wider Western world of democratic nations, which have enjoyed peace and catered for it through an international rule of law — which critics say has been upheld by inbuilt double standards — for the best part of 80 years.
This is not to say that the world has been completely peaceful in the past few decades, but at least the prospect of war has continuously ticked a bit further away from British shores and other Western countries’ borders. Hence the public debate, government outlook and assessments have repeatedly delivered strategic defense reviews that have called for a slimmed-down armed forces, with reduced investments in hardware, readiness and, above all, human capital.
So, it is no surprise that the UK armed forces have been struggling to recruit and retain troops. Adequately maintaining reserve forces has long since ceased to be a UK priority, amid talk of plummeting morale among the army’s ranks, low pay and a dominant sense of the armed forces being involved in unjust wars. This has kept the youth away, eroding further the UK’s long-held reputation of having one of the world’s most professional and skilled armies.
A YouGov poll published last week reported that 38 percent of under-40s in the UK say they would refuse to serve in the armed forces in the event of a new world war, while 30 percent say they would not serve even if Britain was facing imminent invasion. This age bracket of 18 to 40 years old is similar to the part of society the UK government initially used for conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War.
The same poll also found that one in 14 (7 percent) say they would volunteer for the armed forces if a world war broke out, rising to 11 percent in the event that the British mainland was under threat.
Great catastrophes, it is said, often seem unthinkable until they happen. I am sure this reluctant attitude toward joining the armed forces in the UK would change more rapidly than what is estimated and what studies suggest once society faces an existential threat. The hostilities in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that we are witnessing today seem to tip the balance once again in favor of a return to the drawing board to redesign state and society, especially in the West, to meet the renewed challenges.
The Cold War ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but new challenges have crept up since, from geostrategic adversities posed by a rising China and posturing Russia to the increasingly pointed divide between Global North and Global South. This is a vulnerable planet with demand outstripping supply, with poverty creeping up and state resources not stretching far enough, especially in the Western world, to cater for the welfare state and its growing social care bills thanks to increasingly aging populations in times of austerity and shrinking resources.
But Western societies have veered toward an extreme form of individualism, fueled by a greedy, laissez-faire capitalism that has driven the economic, political and social architecture of Britain and eroded the communal fabric and concepts of service, whether in the armed forces or the numerous public and civil institutions. Above all, embracing privatization and a form of capitalism with a capital “C” to turbocharge the UK’s economy and growth, as witnessed since the mid-1980s, has no doubt wiped out the sense of service with a capital “S” that is crucial to a society preserving its sense of community, civic responsibility, social cohesion and duty to fight for the common good. Capitalism has inflated the sense of extreme individualism and has rendered cost central to any activity, big or small, and confined the concept of selflessness to narrow and obscure corners of our everyday existence.
It is no surprise that the UK armed forces have been struggling to recruit and retain troops.
As a result, Britain woke up last week to ask itself, what is conscription? Why is armed forces recruitment falling below its intended level? What is a citizen army? Would the sons and daughters of the UK be ready to fight — to answer the call to prepare, train and mobilize? And at what cost?
After years of cuts and retreating investment in education, coupled with a less than adequate political leadership, it has become increasingly clear that young people in the UK and some other European nations see as alien any values that promote a sense of conformity or patriotism. Just look at what happened in France when President Emmanuel Macron tried to introduce voluntary national service for youths in the hope of fostering the country’s dwindling patriotic spirit — hardly anyone answered the call.
It seems that society has lurched increasingly toward a simple equation: everyone for themselves and everything comes at a price. And before efforts are spent to review the social contract between the ruled and their rulers, people are unlikely to be wowed into a U-turn and to again believe in selflessness and upholding the common good — values that are essential to potentially persuading people to serve. Until then, states will reap what they have been sowing: poor yields from poor seeds. A shrinking UK army will remain a reflection of a society in disarray and that has, in recent decades, made choices that could only manifest in reduced power and influence.
*Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.